Voice-controlled robot wheelchair

MIT researchers are designing a wheelchair that responds to verbal commands and remembers how to get various places. Outside, it uses GPS for wayfinding. Inside though, GPS doesn't work so well so the researchers are investigating positioning schemes using WiFi, cameras, and laser rangefinders. They're currently testing a prototype in a Boston nursing home. From MIT News Office:
 Newsoffice 2008 Wheelchair-4-EnlargedJust by saying "take me to the cafeteria" or "go to my room," the wheelchair user would be able to avoid the need for controlling every twist and turn of the route and could simply sit back and relax as the chair moves from one place to another based on a map stored in its memory.

"It's a system that can learn and adapt to the user," says Nicholas Roy, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics and co-developer of the wheelchair. "People have different preferences and different ways of referring" to places and objects, he says, and the aim is to have each wheelchair personalized for its user and the user's environment.

Unlike other attempts to program wheelchairs or other mobile devices, which rely on an intensive process of manually capturing a detailed map of a building, the MIT system can learn about its environment in much the same way as a person would: By being taken around once on a guided tour, with important places identified along the way. For example, as the wheelchair is pushed around a nursing home for the first time, the patient or a caregiver would say: "this is my room" or "here we are in the foyer" or "nurse's station."
Robot wheelchair (MIT)


  1. …I can see the voice commands for a fire situation: “GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” On the other hand, if they *really* wanted to have fun with this, have the chair be able to talk back.

    “I need to go up to the second floor.”


  2. electric wheelchairs are, in most cases, horrible devices. once someone gets in one of those, they don’t get out. even if you’re old, or had some serious handicap, you need to move, your body can’t just do nothing for extended periods of time.
    and what happens if someone gets in the way? would it just run a small child over if said child was in the guided path?

  3. >would it just run a small child over if said child was in the guided path?
    Why would you think that?

    If they’re putting in motion sensors for indoor use, they’d have to be braindead to not also use them for collision warnings.

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